Director: Peter Cohn
Screenwriters: Gary Lennon

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Peter Cohn’s debut feature, Drunks, gives us a moving, often riveting look at what goes on in Alcoholics Anonymous by depicting what is generally taboo, the inner workings of a meeting. Based on writer Gary Lennon’s play Blackout (Lennon also did the adaptation), it features a stellar cast, each of whom gets to present his or her story during the course of a session. What may seem gimmicky at first is transformed by the sheer power of performance and detail into a broad range of personal and moving experiences.

The center of the film is Jim, played by Richard Lewis, who started drinking after his wife’s death, has been sober for a while, but is now starting to slip. As he seeks solace, we continually return to the film’ s dramatic center as a parade of exceptional actors take their turns. Highlights include Howard Rollins as a man who almost killed his son in an auto accident; an overworked doctor (Dianne Wiest), whose access to booze and drugs is too tempting; Faye Dunaway as a divorcée with a tragic family story; and Spalding Gray as the newcomer who just stumbled into the meeting and is completely in denial. But Drunks is not just a simplistic “message” film. It’s an emotionally up-front work that strives to keep its audience engaged and always thinking, which in itself is a real accomplishment.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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